Make Poverty History

I don’t give to charities much, I’m quite selective really on that front. Currently I give monthly to the WWF – that’s the animals, not a pension fund for old wrestlers – and when Comic Relief pops round I always make sure I donate. Why these two?

Well I do think that animals are much more deserving of this planet than us humans who just burn, rape and pillage until the land is barren and then move on, that’s also barren of animal life, except those that we show pity to and cage and lock up for our enjoyment. A nice species we certainly are.

Also, Comic Relief is a long term thinking charity. They don’t just send off food parcels or hard currency. They visit a location, understand the problem, identify solutions which involve the local people, and long term solutions at that. So they will show people how to create drainage systems, then supply the materials and empower them to make it together, so the next one that’s built can be made by themselves. They really do try and educate people rather than just throw money at them.

This year at Comic Relief I noticed the Make Poverty History campaign, read about it and signed up. I bought two of the wristbands (unfortunately they may be the ones alleged to have been made in Chinese sweat shops), wrote an email to Prime Minister Tony Blair, and signed a petition. However, I don’t fully believe they are doing the right thing.

Let’s take Africa for the best example of what my concerns are, well within my limited, comfortable knowledge that is. Africa is a country that is filled with war, corruption, disease, ignorance, etc, etc. After watching the movie Tears of the Sun, all the associated extras on the DVD and then doing some more research myself, I like to think I’m a bit more educated than I was before. There are Civil Wars raging right now, and the after affects of others are still being felt years and years after they are over. Ethnic cleansing really has taken a new meaning in those Countries in a most vile and hideous way. Many countries have the deepest corruption through their ruling societies. They are fighting the prejudices and turmoil that has been ingrained in their lives for so long. Of course that’s not all African nations, and there are many degrees of the above, but the problems are there.

So with Make Poverty History we intend to write off all the debt that these countries have and expect to start building their lives and societies back up around them. Except none of this tackles the inherent problems in the society with war, corruption and reliance on outside help.

A friend of mine gave me a little story from a book he was reading about by Paul Theroux’s travels through Africa, and his disillusionment with some of the African people. My friend recounted a part of that book that addressed their reliance on Western aide. He told me that Theroux had written that he had watched families of this village huddle around a tree waiting for the aide to arrive, year after year, and no one thought to gather the seeds of the tree and scatter them around to make other trees grow and provide more shelter in the years to come.

Now whether that lost something in the recounting of the story, whether it was a metaphor for the authors experience and how some of the people were, I’m not sure. I’ve not been to Africa and I’ve not read the book, so I have no idea of its validity but it sure is an interesting view. It’s also not what I base my reservations of the Make Poverty History on, they are purely on the following.

If we cancel the debt of these countries, who will stop the corruption as the the new money is pocketed and kept from the people, who will stop the misdirection of money in the countries, the inhumane officially funded wars and horrible acts of genocide?

The debt should not be cancelled in sheer isolation. Simply cancelling the debt as we see it will buy these countries more time, but it doesn’t solve their underlying issues. What needs to be done are agreements put in place that each nations debt is reduced as they meet various stages of reform. As their internal struggles are resolved a percentage of the debt is removed. As they move towards an equal society a percentage is removed. As corruption is ended and funds dispersed evenly and fairly, a percentage is reduced. As the official governing systems become more democratic and open, a percentage is removed, and so on. A plan of reform needs to be in place along with the cancellation of the debt, otherwise it will just build up, and many years later the debt will return.

However, can we truly expect any country to start to rebuild itself with such a debt hanging over it? Despite the risk we run of seeing such effort wasted and the debt rise up again, how can we believe that we should do nothing and not take the first step? That first step being to cancel the debt that we hold over them.

I can’t see we can just sit around and accept these things the way they are. We need to give the countries a chance to develop and to internally invest. Personally I still favour a structured reduction of the debt based on the introduction of democratic Governments, eradication of corruption, the development of strong self help programmes and internal investment.

On a slightly more personal and closer to home note, Make Poverty History is about to descend on the city I live in, the capital of Scotland, Edinburgh.

Bob Geldoff has just invited everyone possible to the lovely City of Edinburgh, currently the belief is that around one million people will turn up. This is without a check on resources in the city, or help with funding the huge services burden it will pose. He’s organised the big Live 8 concert to attract huge audiences to the cause, and at the same time attempt to entice them to Edinburgh afterwards for the biggest party ever.

Now I have a lot of respect for Mr Geldoff, what he’s done and what he stands for. What I don’t respect in this case is his ignoring of what he’s going to do to the City of Edinburgh and its people. Not to mention the costs that will be incurred and will be passed to the Edinburgh residents and Scottish tax payers. There’s also the disruption caused to the entire city for a number of days, causing many of the capitals residents to be angered and possibly turn against the purpose of the whole event. Then there’s the damage to be caused to the environment surrounding the G8 event which is taking place in some glorious countryside.

These are hard facts that we’ll have to face. The extra Police, Ambulance, Fire, Security Services, Army, Air Force and Council staff, closed streets, restricted travelling, etc. The only good thing to come out of it for a local might be the ability to wear casual clothes to work if they normally wear a suit or uniform to work. Who knows what else will be done in order to tie down as many security issues as possible to concentrate on the huge amount of people invited. How ever many turn up, they have to be prepared for the maximum number.

Then when they’re gone there will be the clean up costs and the removal of all those security measures. There are going to be many after the fact costs, as The Policeman’s Blog points out, they’ll be returning to Scotland again and again to attend Scottish Court and appear in the various cases that will be brought against those who break the law. Why? Well there will be English Police shipped up to Scotland to assist in the security, and if they arrest someone they’re arrested under Scottish Law. Although he does say that the English Police won’t police anyone…errmmm…okay, make sure you go head to head with an English Policeman then!

Interestingly that post on the Policeman’s site does fill me with dread. He doesn’t mention once the concern for the people or property he’s protecting, straight into commenting about “soap dodgers”, the overtime and riot gear, and we wonder about the quality of the Police force today. Luckily the Scottish Police are a mite less aggrieved.

Anyway, back to the point, the G8 conference is already costing a fortune for the city’s residents, how much more is this all going to cost us?

I wish this had all been arranged much further in advance and the Council and Scottish Executive had a chance to be involved with the plans of the protest organisers more rather than just sprung on everyone so close to the event. There’s some serious mismanagement going on, or perhaps the idea is to totally disrupt the city and overrun the areas surrounding the conference, however popular that makes the people and cause in Scotland.

If I were the G8 leaders I’d be looking at moving the event right now, and even that would tarnish the image of Edinburgh. However, it’s got to be better than the alternative, for which the residents of Edinburgh and Scotland will be paying for some time to come.

Update 24/06/2005: Did you have any misgivings about Africa’s internal problems? If you didn’t check out this link at Boing Boing showing the raising of a shanty town in Zimbabwe by it’s Government.

Never mind though, we’re cancelling that Government’s debt, so everything will be okay. I’m sure Mugabe and his Government will use that money to rebuild the town…won’t they?

Update 06/07/2005: Interestingly I caught the news the other day and it showed a few of the white stars involved in the campaign talking about how cancelling the debt of the African Governments was the way forward, etc, etc. It was promptly followed by a black African woman who was responsible for a children’s charity in her homeland and her words highlighted what I’ve already said here. “They can cancel the debt if they want…” and that was said off handedly without much concern, “…but they have to get the money to the people, that’s the problem”. I am paraphrasing as I can’t remember her exact words, but I thought that provided the perfect contrasting viewpoint.

For a couple of other interesting views, check out my friends posts (and I use that term without approval 😉 ). Martin and Abi.

On a related topic, I’m deeply engrossed in the book Shake Hands with the Devil: The Failure of Humanity in Rwanda – Roméo Dallaire at the moment, it’s an engrossing read and I’m already seeing the embarassing mess that the UN was in internally, and apparently still is in. On one hand we shout about trying to help the third world countries and on the other we ignore them and let multiple events of genocide occur with little care except for the regret and promise of action next time…then the next time comes. It’ll be an interesting post when I finally get through the book, and it will certainly help to broaden my understanding of Africa.

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